Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Film Review: Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit (2014)


Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Adam Cozad and David Koepp
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and Kenneth Branagh

Since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass left the Jason Bourne series, the franchise has really gone downhill as the studio keeps on churning out sequels. First it was Jeremy Renner, and now it’s Chris Pine who takes over the mantle... wait... what’s that? This isn’t a Jason Bourne spin-off?

O.K, you get where I’m coming from. Here we have another ‘post-Bourne’ style action thriller which is completely without an identity of its own, clearly designed to capitalise on the success of a film making style which peaked in 2007. When James Bond attempted to copy the style in Quantum Of Solace in 2008 we all saw through the facade and the film makers learnt their lesson, so it comes as a great disappointment to see Paramount Pictures taking a perfectly fine franchise like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and making the same mistakes.

Jack Ryan, however, is not James Bond or Jason Bourne in terms of both character and global box office appeal. That’s not a criticism of the series, in fact I like the previous Ryan films very much because of the character and his morals and what he stands for. The Hunt For Red October, Clear And Present Danger, and The Sum Of All Fears are complex novels which were made into both mature yet crowd-pleasing films (all taking over $100 million at the US box office) at a time when cinema wasn’t crammed full of carbon copies of the same old formula and when directors like John McTiernan and Phillip Noyce could take time to build a story infused with tense action sequences which looked like nothing else on screen at the time.

The key to the success was Jack Ryan. He’s not an action hero but he gets caught up in action because he’s the only one who has the intelligence and detailed knowledge of the enemy; whether that be a Soviet submarine captain, a Columbian drug cartel, or a neo Nazi group starting WWIII, Ryan’s analytical skills holds the key. These films are filled with action sequences, but often Ryan isn’t the one doing the shooting and fighting; he’s just trying to get out alive.

Fast forward to 2013 and we have Chris Pine as a Ryan indistinguishable from the character we’ve seen played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, who, ironically, already played the ‘reboot’ younger role in 2003. In Shadow Recruit (a title which makes no sense whatsoever) the revamped Ryan is fighting and killing like Bourne, riding motorbikes at high speed like Bourne, and hanging off of speeding trucks like Bond. This is not the Jack Ryan who grows up to be a senior CIA analyst (which is something the Ben Affleck film nailed) but just another indestructible action hero. I have nothing against indestructible action heroes, but when Jack Ryan is turned into one just so a film can get financed in the hope his name will bring in audiences where an original character might not (see Phillip Noyce’s Salt to prove that’s not needed), I do take offense and I will call the film out for what it is, and what it clearly is not.

What it is not, is interesting, exciting, or intriguing which all four previous films in the series are. The plot in this film means nothing feels at stake because, yet again, New York City is threatened by a bomb which we know will not detonate. The film opens with Ryan watching the events of September 11th on TV which only reminds us that a film like this can’t present us with anything much worse than what has happened in real life. It needed to avoid ‘city in danger’ clich├ęs but that’s all it can offer. When Ryan isn’t being an action hero, the scenes of analysis and computing hacking are flat and uninvolving because there’s nothing exciting about watching someone downloading files and tapping on a keyboard whilst code flashes on the screen. Compare this to the tense scene in Clear And Present Danger where Ryan is trying to print files in one office whilst someone else is deleting them in the office next door. Utterly compelling and it’s just two men in front of a computer. The difference is that the story makes us care in Clear And Present Danger, but in Shadow Recruit the sequence is DOA.

Frustratingly, the film shows flashes of what could have been if it were not hell-bent on losing its identity and becoming a Bourne rip-off. Anyone who has read the novels would hope that Ryan’s early life, his military background, and the money he makes on the stock market could make for an intelligent thriller based on a story which Tom Clancy perhaps only touched on. Alas, all of this is wrapped up in the opening ten minutes, all rushing towards him being picked up by the CIA so the action can begin. It’s a real waste of an opportunity to make a reboot which could have added value to an established series, and that’s the biggest disappointment.

Chris Pine is perfectly fine in the action role but is given nothing to stretch himself, but Keira Knightly is woefully miscast as his American girlfriend, whose accent is all over the place. Of all the hundreds of young American actresses which could have been cast, why did Knightly get the role? It’s a question as unfathomable as the choice to have Kenneth Branagh direct, for his approach to the genre shows precious little originality and he’s a film maker who should be attached to better material than this. If unoriginal, I will say the final action sequence is certainly well made but it holds no thrills and the film is way beyond redemption at that point.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: By making a Jack Ryan reboot in this fashion Paramount have defecated on the series which brought them so much success. Of all the intelligent and complex Ryan novels yet unfilmed, why they chose to make a second rate story such as this would be beyond me if it were not sadly so obvious. No one wants intelligent and complex thrillers anymore, so we get Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit instead. It’s an insult to Tom Clancy’s legacy.

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